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The US Economic Development Administration has awarded $2 million in grants to the Southwest Trail Project, a recreational trail connecting the loop of the Arkansas River Trail in Pulaski County to Hot Springs National Park.
Saline County will receive a $1 million grant to restore the historic Saline River Bridge near Benton as part of the bike and pedestrian route. The project will be matched with $250,169 in local funds.
Garland County will receive a $1 million grant to build its portion of the Southwest Trail. The project will be matched with $250,000 in local funds.
The federal funds come from the $1.9 trillion US bailout package, which all of Arkansas’ congressional delegates voted against.
“President Biden knows that the travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation sector is a critical driver of our nation’s economy,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a press release. “These EDA investments will create new tourist destinations across the state of Arkansas, bringing new visitors to the state and providing businesses with opportunities to grow and prosper.”
The Southwest Trail was first proposed in 2013. Planning and initial work, funded by grants, began to ramp up in 2018. Metroplan, the long-range transportation planning agency for the center of Arkansas, announced last year that it had approved more than $5.2 million for the project through its Surface Transportation Block Grant and Road Improvement programs.
The project is planned as a central Arkansas part of a bicycle tourism boom that is already changing northwest Arkansas.
“This investment will strengthen our efforts to preserve Arkansas’ history and conserve our natural resources for Arkansans, and will further strengthen our tourism industry, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who travel here from other places,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in The Release.